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Differentiating between and synthesizing quantitative, qualitative, and longitudinal research on polarized school cultures: a comment on Van Houtte (2006)

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Van Houtte provides a valuable large-sample quantitative analysis of differentiation and polarization processes between and within school cultures in Belgium. Such research across 34 secondary schools provides greater confidence that the findings in the ethnographic tradition for the differentiation-polarization theory are not due to idiosyncracies of the individual schools chosen. However, it is unhelpful to contrast her large-sample approach with the ethnographic tradition by characterizing the former as quantitative and the latter as qualitative. Many ethnographic studies of secondary schools have employed quantitative methods. It is better to characterize her research as multi-site and the ethnographic tradition as case-study. This illuminates how the two methodologies can be more constructively synthesized. Within large sample multi-site approaches some selection of in-depth case studies, together with longitudinal data analysis, are needed to disentangle socio-economic class effects from differentiation effects in order to determine causality.

Keywords: ability grouping; pupil culture; research synthesis; school culture; tracking systems

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2007

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